MLB power rankings: Phillies take big leap forward

MLB power rankings: Phillies take big leap forward

We are three weeks into the season and the Phillies are third in the National League East with a 9-9 record, which is fairly impressive considering they have played the Mets and Nationals in 12 of the first 18 games.

And the experts are starting to take notice after the Phils took two of three from the Mets last week, followed up by a three-game sweep of the Braves over the weekend.

What the experts are saying
Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter moved the Phillies from 28 to 20 in his rankings this week. Reuter writes: "The pitching staff is falling into place, and that could help them hover around the .500 mark going forward."

His story was published before the news of Aaron Nola's trip to the 10-day DL broke this afternoon (see story), but it looks like the red-hot Nick Pivetta will be called up to take Nola's spot in the rotation. Pivetta is off to a blazing start in Triple A, going 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA, 24 strikeouts and two walks through three starts (see Future Phillies Report).

Reuter's only concern is the lack of offense. Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph have greatly underachieved in the first three weeks of the season. Franco is hitting .171 with three home runs and Joseph is hitting .200 with one homer.

Despite the lack of production from Franco and Joseph, the rest of the lineup has picked up the slack -- especially in the later innings. According to CSNPhilly's Corey Seidman, the Phillies lead the majors with six home runs in the eighth inning. They have also scored 27 runs in innings 7-9, which is third best in the NL behind the Diamondbacks and Nationals.

USA Today also bumped the Phillies up eight spots -- 27 to 19.

The only comment next to the ranking was: "Cesar Hernandez, your early-season MVP?"

MVP of the National League? Probably not. MVP of the Phillies? There is a case for that.

In 18 games, Hernandez has hit .338 with four home runs, 18 runs scored and an on-base percentage of .376. He leads the team in hits, average, home runs, slugging percentage and runs.

Hernandez had only six home runs last season and could tie or surpass that mark by the end of April.

FOX Sports' Dieter Kurtenbach moved the Phillies from 30 to 23. Kurtenbach writes: "A 5-1 week will get you out of the Power Rankings basement. The Phils won a series against the Mets and then swept the Braves this week."

Hurts so good: Phillies win third straight with a wacky walkoff

Hurts so good: Phillies win third straight with a wacky walkoff

BOX SCORE

Brock Stassi's toe hurt.
 
Maikel Franco's ribs and head hurt.
 
Pain never felt so good.
 
The Phillies pulled off their most dramatic win of the young season when they rallied for two runs in the bottom of the 10th inning to beat the Atlanta Braves, 4-3, at chilly Citizens Bank Park on Saturday night (see Instant Replay).
 
Franco completed a three-RBI night when he smacked a two-out, two-run, bases-loaded single to right to give the Phillies the walk-off win. It was the Phillies' third straight win and fifth in the last seven games as they improved to 8-9 with a chance to sweep a series and even their record at .500 on Sunday afternoon.
 
Franco will be in the lineup.
 
But he might need a couple of Advil to get going.
 
After his game-winning hit, Franco was hilariously chased into right field by his euphoric teammates. The Phillies third baseman absorbed a beat down with Andres Blanco delivering a blow to the top of Franco's head.
 
"You see that -- boom!" Blanco said in the happy clubhouse after that game.  
 
Franco did more than see it.

He felt it.
 
"Whitey got me," he said, laughing and pointing to his head and ribs. "My body is screaming right now."
 
Across the clubhouse, Stassi was feeling Franco's pain. His foot got stepped on during the happy scrum.
 
"My toe is killing me," he said with a laugh.
 
Stassi, too, might need an Advil before Sunday's game. He has a good chance to be in the lineup at first base because Tommy Joseph seems like a candidate for a day off after a tough night. Joseph made a costly throwing error in the top of the 10th inning that helped the Braves take a 3-2 lead.
 
Stassi helped rescue the Phillies from that deficit. His 10th inning single was the first of three one-out hits that the Phils collected against Braves' closer Jim Johnson. With the bases loaded, Johnson made Odubel Herrera look bad with a swinging strikeout for the second out. That brought up Franco. New hitting coach Matt Stairs is constantly encouraging Franco to use the whole field and that's just what the cleanup man did in lacing a liner to the warning track in right.

"To right field! How 'bout that," manager Pete Mackanin said.
 
It was Franco's second single of the night. He would have been awarded a game-winning double if he had reached second base. But, alas, he was chased into right field.
 
In the clubhouse after the game, Franco was told by a club official that he could have had a double had he touched second.
 
Franco's eyes widened in disbelief.
 
"Ah, Mikey!" he said, scolding himself.
 
Then he laughed.
 
Across the clubhouse, Joseph could laugh about the miscue that saw him throw to an empty third base after a sacrifice bunt in the 10th. With everything moving fast, he mistook shortstop Freddy Galvis for a baserunner as Galvis streaked to cover third.
 
Joseph's error put a man on third and the Braves scored the go-ahead run on an infield hit.
 
The ironic part about Joseph's error was the Phillies played excellent defense -- Herrera and Aaron Altherr made great catches in the outfield and Galvis was Galvis at short -- until the 10th.
 
They pitched well, too, from starter Jerad Eickhoff's five innings of one-run ball to the stingy relief work of Joely Rodriguez, Luis Garcia and Pat Neshek. They teamed on three shutout innings.
 
With his top late-game tandem of Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris in need of a night off, Mackanin asked Edubray Ramos to close it out. Ramos struck out the first two batters in the ninth and was one out away from his first big-league save when Brandon Phillips unloaded on a hanging slider to tie the game at 2-2.
 
Ramos rebounded and got the final out of the inning. As he walked off the field, he covered his mouth with his glove and shouted. Best guess: He said a naughty word. But ultimately his teammates got him off the hook. Parts of it were pretty. Parts of it were ugly. But when the night was over, the Phillies had a win.
 
"It was really a wacky game," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We played well overall, then there was a flurry of activity at the end."
 
Mackanin reached for a bottle of water.
 
"I'm going to drink more of this Smart Water," he said. "It's a happy day."

Tonight's lineup: Herrera, Franco look to finally solve crafty Colon

Tonight's lineup: Herrera, Franco look to finally solve crafty Colon

Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco are a combined 6 for 43 (.140) off Bartolo Colon, but the Phillies are using their regular 3-4 tandem Friday night against the Braves.

Colon, 10-3 with a 3.01 ERA against the Phillies from 2014-16, has given both fits, particularly Franco (see story).

But the Phillies are riding some momentum into Friday night's game after scoring five runs off Mets ace Noah Syndergaard last night.

Now comes Colon, who throws about 10 mph slower but paints the outside corner with his fastball and sinker better than just about anyone (see game notes).

Franco broke out of a career-worst 0-for-22 slump last night with a rocket double off Syndergaard and an insurance home run off mediocre reliever Fernando Salas. The Phillies are hoping his .172 batting average continues to climb. It's early enough in the season that a 3-for-5 night would get him over .200.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Aaron Altherr, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P